My hand is shaking as I dial the numbers, balancing the little spiral-bound directory on my knee. Jane picked up on the second ring, “Hi Tracy…!” I jumped a little, always startled when caller ID betrays me. I was born at the wrong time. “…How are you!?” Jane is always cheerful, despite having seven kids and an array of stray pets brought home by her veterinarian husband.
“Hi Jane” I choke out, the tears clogging my throat and getting stuck somewhere in my mangled greeting.
“Are you okay? No, I know you’re not okay, I’ll be right there.”
Gratitude wells within. Grateful for someone cheery who talks a lot and doesn’t need me to fill in the yawning gaps. My life is full of yawning gaps. Everywhere I step, the ground is thin, fragile like a crust of ice on snow that’s frozen overnight. Looks are deceiving. Looks don’t mean anything.
“I’m coming to get your kids- I’ll be there in five minutes.”
My eyes sting from the running make-up, and I swipe at them angrily with the back of wrist. Setting the phone down near the pile of dishes on the counter, I go in search of the boots and coats and gloves for the kids. They won’t be where they’re supposed to be. They never are.
It’s three days before Christmas. The tree is up and sparkling, presents from grandma and the cardboard shipping boxes they came in litter the living room. The vacuum is parked in the middle of the dining room, the cord forlorn and tangled behind it, and still plugged in. In the sink is the scalded sugar from the toffee I was trying to make. There are so many people I want to do things for, to thank- and baking is the only thing I can do this year.
But I can’t even do that. Not really. Pretending everything is fine isn’t going so well. For days at a time, I do fine. I coast along on the thin ice, thinking I’ve got it under control. Then with a petrifying crack, the ice gives way, and I am plunged again into the icy water of what Divorce means.
In the basket under the buffet (named Phoebe- in happier days, all my furniture was given names) I find two Ugg boots, and one snow-boot liner. Heading down the hall to retrieve the kids’ coats, still holding all the boots, I call for them to come down from their rooms. Stupid tears. Stop, please.
All three of them were in their rooms. All I ask is that Lego don’t end up in my bed or in the kitchen. I ask it over and over. And when I stepped on yet another damn brick and gouged the bottom of my foot, in the kitchen, while burning the sugar for the toffee to thank all the good people who’ve done kind things for us this year… I yelled. A lot. I may have even said some words mama’s shouldn’t say.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs, I called again, a little less patiently (is that possible?) for them to come down. Now.
Three little faces appear over the railing, and make their way down the curving staircase. That staircase is one of the things I fell in love with when deciding this was the home where I would spend the rest of my life. That, and the gleaming oak floors. And the lilacs in the backyard. And the handmade island from Vermont in the kitchen. And the front porch with two Adirondack chairs and a swing. And and and… I could go on forever. Welcome to my castle of broken dreams.
“Guys, get your coats and boots on please. Jane will be here in a minute to pick you up.” They shove each other and joke, despite my teary face, and my daughter tells me she’s wet her pants and needs a dry pull-up. Of course. Add “potty training in the middle of a divorce” the list of bad ideas I keep in my nightstand.
Jane rings the doorbell, and the kids rush outside, eager to go play somewhere else. I stand at the door, the cold air whipping around my ankles, while my kids bounce down the walk. Jane waves over her shoulder and I close the door.
The tears can really come now. In the hallway, I lean against the wall as the sobs rack my body, but even that is too hard, and I slide down prostrate on my gleaming beautiful floors, my face pressed to wood and tears pooling under my cheek. My arms and legs shake with sorrow and fatigue. I am so weary, so tired of trying to hold everything together. The holes in the ice are getting bigger and closer, and even my best efforts are not enough.
I begin to plead to my God for help. For forgiveness. For strength. Before these words can even form on my tongue, I am told to be at peace. This startles me- enough that I pause and look up from my sopping sweatshirt sleeves.
But… I’m confused. I haven’t even asked yet…
No matter child. You are heard, and you are loved. Go to the temple.
But… I don’t want to clean up and get dressed. I want to lay here on the floor, sopping up my tears in an old sweatshirt. And I want to tell you what I want.
Go to the temple.
But… I have a kitchen full of burnt sugar and I don’t know when I’ll be kid-free again, and there are so many chores I need to do.
Go to the temple.
I sit up and lean against the thick cream wall. Really? Got to the temple? Pulling myself to my feet, my temple bag is right where I left it- near the backdoor, under a parka and a tablecloth. I can pull on a skirt and a sweater as easily as I can finish vacuuming or scouring failed toffee. Swollen eyes are hardly a liability at the temple anyway. No one will notice.
Go to the temple.
I pull my hair back into an unglamorous ponytail, and glance in the mirror. Ugh. My jean skirt and brown sweater hardly can be called Sunday Best, but for now, today, it is my best. It is the best I can do and offer. It is the Divorcees mite. I pull on my coat, shove some fresh tissues in my pocket, and lift the parka and tablecloth off my bag.
Okay. I will.
(Painting by James Christiansen)